Life, Death, and Beyond
I’ve been thinking about what it means to be chosen, and conversely how we choose to be chosen. I’ve also been thinking about life, death, choices, and what happens to us after our earthly body dies. Do we remember who we are here? Do we remember our friends, lovers, enemies, acquaintances? Do we remember events, important moments, unimportant moments, or forgotten moments? I believe we do. The problem is that all we know and have experienced about the Divine is limited by our own thoughts and words.
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While traveling to Chicago for Christmas I picked up a copy of Proof of Heaven at the airport. My friend Robin kept talking about how much she loved this book and urging me to read it for months. When I arrived at the airport with nothing to read and saw this book among a rather limited selection at a small news kiosk it seemed like something said, “Okay, now is the time to read this.”
Briefly it is a story of Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon from Lynchburg, Virginia, who in 2008 mysteriously contracts e-coli bacterial meningitis, falls into a coma for seven days, and is essentially brain dead. All of his medical scans show no higher brain activity at all. His chances of survival when he was admitted were 10 percent. His odds became progressively worse each day he remained in a coma. No one has every fully recovered from this type of illness; anyone who does survive is in a vegetative state and requires around-the-clock care.
Dr. Alexander has a near-death experience (NDE) that lasts not for a few minutes as many people who have suffered cardiac arrest and been revived, but for seven days. Previous to this experience he described himself as a man of science and a skeptic about the afterlife. He wrote the book, knowing he would be ridiculed and mocked by his own medical community, because he wanted to help other people, especially those who are facing their deaths or the death of a loved one.
His biggest challenge was trying to communicate an experience that is truly beyond understanding to the rational, conscience mind. But he did his best, and the result is a wonderful story about the utter and complete love of God. The word Dr. Alexander uses most to describe the dimensions he visited outside time and space is “real.” That the spiritual realm is not only real, but also more real than our physical world.
As followers of Jesus, we already know this universal truth about unconditional love. We know it from our teachings and readings, but I think more importantly we “know it” in our being — in our own core, which is one with the Divine core.
So what does all this have to do with being chosen? And choosing to be chosen? My question is, if our subconscious mind already knows the ultimate truth, how do we then live that in our conscious existence? I believe this is where our free will comes into play, and where we get to decide what how much we want God to be part of our present life and conscience thoughts. Toward the end of Proof of Heaven, Dr. Alexander explains how he uses prayer and meditation to communicate directly with God: “Communicating with God is the most extraordinary experience imaginable, yet at the same time it’s the most natural one of all, because God is present in us at all times. Omniscient, omnipotent, personal — and loving us without conditions. We are connected as One through our divine link with God.”
As I’ve pondered this I’ve realized how now more than ever our daily discipline of prayer and quiet time is to accessing the Divine. God is already there. All we need to do is show up. That’s it. It’s not a very high bar — but I’ll speak for myself when I say it is a challenge. I get distracted. I get tired. I get cranky. I get discouraged if I don’t feel like God is listening. I get angry when I don’t feel like God knows how I feel. But God does know how I feel, because God became human and dwelt among us. That is what at the core of our Christian faith. And if God became flesh then our Creator is not some distant, abstract idea but a real “realer than real” entity that embraces us in all our humanity. As the saying goes “warts and all.”
As we head into the New Year, I am choosing to be chosen. I want God to have a deeper and more profound role in my life. And the best part is all I have to do is show up. I’ve already been invited, I’ve already been chosen! I just need to accept the invitation and open up my heart and mind to the Divine that is already there. To that end, I am recommitting myself to my discipline of quiet time. Even if I don’t understand exactly what it is I’m doing or asking — I’m going to show up and say, “Here I am God. Thanks for choosing me.”
Cynthia J. Martens is director of marketing at Sojourners.